Then-Republican Majority Leader Bruce Blakeman, right, with Democratic Minority Leader...

Then-Republican Majority Leader Bruce Blakeman, right, with Democratic Minority Leader Bruce Nyman, left, and Nassau County Executive Thomas Gulotta in the 1990s. Credit: Newsday/Dick Yarwood

Bruce Blakeman was the first presiding officer of the Nassau County Legislature at a time when County Executive Thomas Gulotta was draining the financial coffers by awarding county contracts to contributors.

Although Gulotta was a fellow Republican, Blakeman pushed to reduce the power of the county executive by requiring all contracts over $50,000 annually to be sent to the legislature's Rules Committee for approval. It was a way to establish some measure of oversight. The informal agreement of 1997 became law in 2000, after Democrats took control of the legislature, and the contract review provision was approved in a countywide public referendum.

Now that he is county executive, Blakeman is trying to accrue more power back to his office, while continuing to flout laws and avoid smart governing. One of the most egregious examples is his plan to create a special force of armed citizens he will deputize for use in unspecified “emergency” situations. Blakeman is using county funds to identify, train and equip this mysterious group — without any spending authority or review from the 19-member legislature, a process essential to democratic government.


As Newsday recently reported, his administration also awarded $8 million in contracts to private law firms many months before sending the paperwork to the legislature's Rules Committee for approval, upending the balance of power in county government and minimizing public awareness of how much he is spending on outside law firms to handle litigation. That need for costly representation often stems from unnecessary disputes initiated by Blakeman — such as his initial attempts to shortcut the process for awarding a lease of county land at the Nassau Hub to Las Vegas Sands, which wants to operate a casino there. He so botched up the legal and political parts of the process that he now claims the license-granting process is “rigged.” 

He also lost his first attempt to ban transgender athletes from using more than 100 county facilities because he did so through a unilateral executive order rather than ask the legislature to pass the ban as a local law. Blakeman criticized State Supreme Court Justice Francis Ricigliano, a prominent Nassau Republican, who wrote a matter-of-fact 13-page decision that said the county executive “acted beyond the scope of his authority” in issuing it.

The order was successfully challenged in another lawsuit as discriminatory, and no instance of this being a problem in the county was cited. Now Blakeman is making another self-serving effort to bring the national culture wars to Long Island by asking the legislature to actually vote on the ban. The New York Civil Liberties Union has already vowed to bring another lawsuit when that happens. This would be the third time Nassau taxpayers would have to cover expensive legal bills with no payoff besides TV time for Blakeman.


Blakeman's need to arrogate more power to himself was further evidenced by a little-noticed procedural vote in January. With the retirement of former GOP presiding officer Richard Nicolello, the last original member of the legislature who understood well its role in the balance of power between branches of government, Blakeman moved to change the position's term. Rather than the long-standing practice of electing a presiding officer, who controls which matters advance in the chamber, for the full two-year legislative cycle, Blakeman demanded a rule change so that the presiding officer can be removed at any time by a vote of 10 members. The current presiding officer, Howard Kopel, took the deal in his desire to get the gavel, essentially becoming a rubber stamp for Blakeman and Nassau GOP chair Joseph Cairo, who now can have Kopel ousted if he balks at their wishes.

Another change on Monday's legislative agenda would further neuter the chamber by removing from it the sole authority granted by the Nassau County Charter to choose which publications with circulations over 50,000 in Nassau County, such as Newsday, will publish legally required notices that inform the public of pending government action. Blakeman wants the power to recommend which publications the legislature “shall” designate. He also wants to be able to determine whether these notices should be in print or online-only to fulfill the public notice requirement — a power his office never had.

Legal experts say such a change likely would trigger a referendum on this fall's ballot because the charter says any diminishment of the legislature's authority must be approved by voters. Further, any move to publish notices only online would violate state law. Blakeman's bid is part of a pattern among local elected officials around the nation to seek to financially punish news organizations that are even fairly critical of them.

These self-promoting distractions from actual governance come at time when Nassau University Medical Center is on the precipice of being taken over by the state, and while the faculty of Nassau Community College is calling on SUNY officials to install new leadership. And Blakeman still has not delivered on his No.1 campaign promise to fix the tax assessment process. 

In the end, county residents are paying through the nose for high-priced lawyers to clean up messes made by a county executive not focused on governing, while the Republican majority on the county legislature enables this nonsense.

MEMBERS OF THE EDITORIAL BOARD are experienced journalists who offer reasoned opinions, based on facts, to encourage informed debate about the issues facing our community.


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